Sandinista chief holds on for a return to power

Missing Persons No. 23 Daniel Ortega

I last saw Daniel Ortega in February 1990. In fact, that is when most of the world last saw him. He was riding into Managua's Revolution Square atop the "Danimobile," a converted lorry, on the closing night of his re-election campaign.

Gone were the thick-rimmed glasses, the unruly hair, the Castro-style olive uniform. He was wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots and a Paisley-pattern designer shirt with the sleeves rolled high, Springsteen-style, to display his biceps. As the lorry's speakers blared out his theme song to a rock backing - "here comes Daniel, Daniel Orte-e-ga" - he emulated "the Boss" by punching the air. The crowd, as they say, went wild.

It seemed like the whole of Nicaragua was there, crammed into the square, plus scores of foreign celebrities who supported Mr Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). There was the singer Jackson Browne, Ed Asner (television's Lou Grant) and Managua-born Bianca Jagger snapping photographs. Mr Ortega was a star. He was on a roll. He couldn't lose.

He did. A white-haired widow called Violeta Chamorro, heading a conservative 14-party coalition calling itself the United National Opposition, easily defeated Mr Ortega to take the presidency. After half a century of dictatorship and a decade of Marxism, Nicaraguans had learned how to disguise their views. Many at Mr Ortega's rally, it seems, had just turned out for the rum and reggae.

He may not have been much in the world news since that day, but Mr Ortega is still a towering figure on the domestic scene. He remains general- secretary of the FSLN, the strongest single party in Nicaragua's fragmented spectrum. A small heart attack last year did not slow him down. Following treatment in Cuba, Mr Ortega returned as undisputed FSLN leader.

His former vice-president, Sergio Ramirez, publicly split with him last year to set up the Sandinista Renovation Movement but that party is largely made up of intellectuals and artists. It is not yet seen as having the street support it would need for electoral success next year, although it is growing.

Mr Ortega also suffered a setback when his former culture minister, the Catholic priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal, quit the FSLN last year, accusing Mr Ortega of "assassinating" the Sandinista movement and comparing his popularity to that of "Hitler, Franco or Reagan".

Mr Ortega lives with his wife, Rosario Murillo, and children in the same unpretentious house in Managua's Carmen district where he has lived since the revolution, even as President. He rarely attends parliament but can occasionally be seen in a Jeep with the odd bodyguard.

Long gone are the heavily-armed Cuban army bodyguards who used to protect him. Fidel Castro, who had warned Mr Ortega against holding free elections, pulled them out within days of his 1990 election defeat.

Mr Ortega's opponents say he is "obsessed" with returning to power. They cite that obsession as the reason he turned himself into a thorn in Mrs Chamorro's flesh, using his grass-roots support to stage violent strikes.

Under a recently-reformed constitution, Mrs Chamorro cannot run in presidential elections in November next year, but, with a one-term gap, Mr Ortega can. With Mrs Chamorrocriticised for failing to reunite the country, for economic recession and for alleged official corruption, the Sandinistas will still be a factor then.

PHIL DAVISON

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific